Fourth Of July-We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Blog

“You yell barracuda, and everyone says “Huh? What?” You yell shark we’ve got a panic on our hands on the fourth of July.”

The Fourth of July has always been the ideal day for me to watch my favourite film: Jaws. Although this time around I may have to do a little bit of juggling. It is World Cup quarter-final day after all.

I first saw the film when I was a child-I can’t remember just how young I was. The certificate was only a PG (on original release it was an A), which is surprising what with Quint being munched upon in glorious technicolour and all. Thirty seven years after its originaI  release it was upgraded to a 12A. I went to see it at the cinema-or the pictures, as we called it, this being long before the days of the multi-screen complexes. I went with my mum and my brother, he being eighteen months younger than me.

I think that age gap counted.

During the film, whenever he heard the music, you know the dum-dum, dum-dum, he would put his coat over his head. Writing dum-dum just doesn’t do John William’s score justice. Try watching it without the music. It is totally different. Totally tamer.

So, whenever he heard the music, which signified the shark’s approach and thus impending danger, he would hide beneath the safety of his coat. He would put it over his head until the sound of the screaming and threshing subsided, then he would emerge again much to my cruel amusement. This method served him well, until the scene where the head of Ben Gardner emerges from the hull of his battered boat without any dum-dum warning. From that point on he remained separated from the screen for the remainder of the movie. It was almost a comfort blanket.

Half-way through the film, the lady appeared down at the front, framed against  the screen, her small bulb above her tray signifying that she was selling drinks and ice-cream. Asked if he wanted an ice cream, his hand came up in a slow re-enactment of the buried Carrie, grasping the money. Next what followed was the comical sight of him walking down to the front of the cinema, head tilted at an angle so that he would not have to look at the screen. Then, clutching his cone, his careful manouvering of the steps in the dark gave way to a frantic run as that music suddenly started up again. Once more he slipped beneath the surface, eating his ice-cream in his shark-resistant parka.

It’s funny how Jaws has remained my favourite film. Perhaps there is something about us being impressionable at a young age. Some of my favourite things have come with me over the decades:

Favourite films: Jaws, Star Wars

Favourite actor: Richard Dreyfuss

Favourite group: The Beatles

Favourite book: To Kill A Mockingbird

No doubt there are others too-I will have to give it some thought. I fear I am starting to get a little self-indulgent again.

When talking of favourite films, I have often had the surprised reaction : “Jaws?!” But its not just the rubber fish eating people-its the study of the relationship between the three men who go out to catch it. The humour and the friction, the drunken scar one-upmanship, and who can forget that chilling  USS Indianapolis scene?

I stayed once at a hotel in the Orkney town of Stromness, where I was thrilled to discover that Robert Shaw had once stayed there. Also, George Mackey Brown used to drink in the bar. I could imagine the hard-drinking actor sharing a whisky or three in there with the writer, holed up from the Scottish storms.

Quint and the poet, both shaped by the sea.

So, today is the perfect summer day (in theory, if not weather) to watch Jaws.

To my friends over the pond, I hope you all have a great Fourth of July.

But remember-stay out of the water.


December Relic

Well hello there, December. Is that snow I can see in your pocket? Come in and rest your hoary head.

How soon the seasons come around. One minute I notice the first leaves start to turn brown, the next  the decorations are going up and people are rushing around in their customary blind panic.

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Unpacked and dusted down is the above antique. A seasonal decoration that is now thirty seven years old. A masterpiece of royal blue and gold.

The things you can do with toilet roll and tinsel.

This is the last link to my very first school, Mossfield Primary. I made this aged five, in my very first year at school. A year later I left due to my family moving home.The cracker came with me.

Every Christmas this inimitable creation took pride of place on many a tree that has long since been discarded. I think once I got older and left the family nest my folks were pleased to see this work of art go with me. And then my less than impressed wife, every single year, tries to relegate it to the back of our tree where nobody can see it, or, even more brazenly, attempts to leave it in the cardboard box altogether. Ostensibly to help preserve this ancient artifact, but she has been heard to mutter, God forgive her, that it is ‘just a thirty seven year old bog roll.’

Uncouth, common, love of my life that she is.

It is a symbol, dear wife, a symbol.

So the cracker is on the tree, the fixed points on my timeline are all joined up. Our season of celebration has now started and Christmas Day will be here before we know it.

Try to take some time out if you can, to enjoy the season, and attain a bit of perspective, before you get swallowed up by a mass of competitive humanity rolling in the aisles over that last bag of sprouts.

Have a great time.

In fact, have a cracker.

A Conspiracy of Kids

On any given weekend, my bleary eyes fix on the same, numerous complaints clogging up my Facebook newsfeed:

Why is it that all week I have to drag my kids out of bed in time to get ready for school, but as soon as it is weekend they are up at the crack of dawn?

I have often uttered this very refrain myself. These days I can exclude my eldest as she is now school leaving age, and sometimes I have to check-in on her, groping around in her darkened pit, just to make sure that her life support system is still on. But as for the others, once weekend arrives there is a seismic shift in their sleeping patterns.

It is like they are wired up for it.

On weekday mornings, the house remains silent. First I make sure that no signs of a carbon monoxide leak has been detected, (only after my coffee mind) and then I have to raise hell for school. My youngest, James, does a great, recoiling, Bela Lugosi impression when the blinds are opened. He flings a protective arm over his still unopened eyes, writhing in the new light. His sister Millie makes her own play for the Oscar by doing her dying John Wayne act, staggering around her toy strewn bedroom. Although the Duke did not take quite so long to drop. Not even in The Alamo. She sways from one wall to the other like she’s on a keeling vessel. And next in line Courtney comes somewhere between the two, recoiling and staggering, with a babble of barely coherent words strung together. Definitely unappreciative of the way we begin things by me shaking her pillow singing Morning Has Broken.

And then we have the weekend.

Long walks, late nights, it doesn’t matter. One Saturday the idea was for me to take them all on a long walk through the woods to tire them out. We went up hills, down hills, over bridges, balanced over fallen trees, splashed in puddles and waded across rivers. Faces were reddened and feet were aching. We returned home and the next thing I know Courtney was waking me to tell me tea was ready. Foolishly though, my wife and I thought that we would reap the benefits of that long slog in the morning. Nope-business as usual.

Nowadays in our weekend routine lie-ins aren’t even contemplated, never mind expected.  We just prepare for five days of dynamite beneath beds followed by two days of joining in the dawn chorus.

But even in this accepted way of how things are, we are instinctively, fearfully, aware of something else, something huge, looming large on the horizon. Something that you can feel getting closer and closer, and is marked off on the calender by three blood-freezing words:

Summer Holidays Begin




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Too late-they’re here. And don’t we know it.

We throw despairing, one-eyed glances in the direction of the digital alarm clock in the instant that we are awakened by screams or laughter or a mixture of the two. For this is no surreptitious sneaking around the house that we are speaking of. One morning, we were shaken from our slumber by the sound of ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’ booming around the house via the karaoke machine.

“Shannon!” I shouted, she being the eldest and so the most culpable.

“WHAT?” (echoing around the house) “WHAT..what…what…what…what…?”

“Turn that off, it’s six o’clock in the morning!”


Don’t be fooled into questioning my parenting skills. This madness is being played out worldwide. It is a conspiracy of kids. It is happening right under your noses, right now. Pay attention-it is going on in your town, in your community. Even in your street. It is Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a sleep-preventing twist.

Thinking of strategies on how to survive these seven weeks can tip us over the edge. We have to take it a day at a time, marking off the days with bloodshot eyes. We have to somehow keep our focus in the present, until we are close enough to dare to look ahead. Otherwise we will be broken by seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. Just the faint glow of daybreak.


(And Dads. Definitely Dads).